UK intelligence agency launches new mission - to train girls in cyber skills

LONDON (REUTERS) - Britain's national intelligence agency unveiled plans on Thursday (Jan 17) to train about 600 teenage girls in cyber skills this year, in a bid to get more women into the male-dominated field.

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) said it would choose girls aged 12 and 13 to take part in four-day courses in coding, cryptography, logic and protecting networks, following a nationwide competition this month.

A spokesman from GCHQ unit, the National Cyber Security Centre, said the aim was to encourage more young people - particularly girls - to work in cyber security, with figures showing that only 11 per cent of the global cyber workforce is female.

"We are looking to address this imbalance... ensuring the inquisitive instincts of young people to find out how things work are maintained is hugely important," said NCSC deputy director Chris Ensor in a statement.

The initiative was welcomed by the technology industry and viewed as timely, with British government figures showing that in 2017 about 43 per cent of businesses and 19 per cent of charities reported a cyber security breach over the course of a year.

"Often women and girls are coned off from the industry at a young age," said Ms Vinous Ali, head of policy at techUK that represents more than 900 technology start-ups and businesses.

Ms Ali said girls' early exposure to images of male James Bonds and teenage boys coding in their bedrooms reinforced stereotypes about who fitted in the tech sector.

She added that without role models, girls did not consider entering the field, which has tried to address the lack of women by training staff in unconscious bias, highlighting female role models on social media, and deleting gender from CVs.

Ms Ali said it was also important for the public sector to be a role model for diversity.

Last year, defence secretary Gavin Williamson announced that women could fight in frontline infantry, the Royal Marines and speciality units previously closed to them.